Call it a playoff-style test for Kobe Bryant
This was the kind of game, the kind of matchup that easily could get Kobe Bryant’s attention.
The Atlanta Hawks have an All-Star guard in Joe Johnson, a 6-foot-7, 240-pound athlete who also has free rein in his team’s offense.
Numbers-wise, it was pretty much even between Bryant and Johnson. Bryant had 28 points on 12-for-21 shooting. Johnson 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting.
Though they didn’t guard each other the entire game, Johnson got the upper hand because his team defeated the Lakers, 109-92, Wednesday night at Philips Arena and because Johnson played a bigger role for his team in the second half.
“Joe played like I thought he would play,” Atlanta Coach Mike Woodson said. “Kobe brings out the best in everybody. Kobe had it going for a while, and then Joe got it going late in the fourth quarter and was able to make a few big shots that really gave us the cushion that we needed.”
When Bryant tunes in on defense, he usually doesn’t get distracted.
Facing Johnson probably was a step toward preparing Bryant for the playoffs.
He could face tough No. 2 guards like San Antonio’s Manu Ginobili, Portland’s Brandon Roy, Denver’s J.R. Smith and Dallas’ Caron Butler.
The game started with Bryant’s being defended by Johnson.
But Ron Artest guarded Johnson and Bryant was on Marvin Williams.
Bryant did spend time guarding Jamal Crawford, the leading candidate for the sixth man of the year award.
That also seemed to perk up Bryant.
Bryant and Johnson had a few encounters when they defended the other.
In the fourth quarter, the two went at it more frequently.
Once, Johnson drove by Bryant for a layup that increased Atlanta’s lead to 89-75.
Bryant responded by getting to the free-throw line after Zaza Pachulia switched over for Johnson.
Surprisingly, Bryant missed both free throws.
The ball was back in Johnson’s hands now and Bryant was defending.
Johnson hit a step-back three-pointer over Bryant for a 92-75 lead.
Late in the fourth, Artest checked back in the game and took over his original assignment of guarding Johnson.
Bryant now was able to concentrate on offense.
A few seconds later, Bryant pulled up and hit a three-pointer over Johnson to pull the Lakers within 100-87.
When the Lakers got mixed up on their defensive rotation, Johnson was left open on the wing.
Artest came charging out, but it was too late.
Johnson made another deep three-pointer for a 103-87 Hawks advantage.
Those were some of the 16 points Johnson had in the second half, eight in the fourth period.
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